By Mike Sweeney
I just turned 60 years old in October. I could say “just 60”, since I really don’t feel 60. Or at least what I thought 60 would feel like. 60 years old and 3 days away from beginning truck driver training with Stevens Transport in Dallas, Texas. I wonder how old their oldest trainee has been or will that be me? In any event, I will be starting from scratch, since I am returning to driving after a 6 year absence. I only drove for a year (2006) and that year had a purpose. It was in memory of my Father, an Over the Road driver from the 1960’s.
When I was about 14 or 15 I began to get interested in my dad’s truck and what he did for a living.
His particular job at that time was for a camper sales lot in South Everett, Washington where I grew up. His route, along with his co-driver was to make two round trips a week to Los Angeles. Each way they hauled a loaded 40 foot lowboy flatbed. They took campers south to the factory that either didn’t sell or was damaged. Then at a different location in LA, they loaded up new campers for the lot. The complete round trip took 3 days. They did that two times a week and took Sunday off at home. Sunday, besides reading the funny papers, I began to enjoy the stories my Dad relayed to my Mom and me.
When I was 15 my Dad began to train me how to conduct the Pre-trip inspections, including starting it up and getting it completely ready to roll. As temped as I was to put it in gear, my Dad said no and I obeyed. When he came out of the house, he did check me out before testing the brakes and heading out. I remained behind until one summer week in 1968 when I was 16 years old. Since school was out I made the trip. It was my very first experience with the unique lifestyle that is the trucker’s.
I don’t remember much about the truck other than it was a cab over. I think it was a couple of years old and very basic. Nothing like the truck I drove in 2006 with Schneider National which was a 2006 Freightliner. Once again nothing like the truck that Stevens will issue me when I graduate their training. I digress. The trip to LA and back was my first experience. I mentioned my Dad was on a team. What that meant for me was one driver drove (yea), one driver slept in the sleeper (double yea) and I got the jump seat. The whole trip was in the jump seat. As much as I enjoyed it, I did get tired and found that sleeping in the jump seat really left some to be desired. I got to sleep in the sleeper for about an hour during a meal stop.
I did get to eat in a truck stop restaurant which gave me an experience I have never forgotten since. Turned out that my Dad and his partner hit this same place on the trip down and again on the return; both times during the morning breakfast shift. My Dad might have been OCD, but they didn’t know about such things in 1968. We went into the restaurant and sat in a booth that his partner told me my Dad insisted they always sit. They always had the same waitress and even after staring at the menu for 15 minutes, he always ordered Ham and Eggs. On the return trip his co-driver decided to trip him up and spoke to the waitress when my Dad wasn’t looking. The waitress took her grease pencil, drew a line through the Ham and Eggs on the menu before giving it to my Dad. After 15 minutes the waitress came up and told my Dad “Bob, I scratched what you like”. Without blinking my Dad said “Well, go wash your hands and bring me my Ham and Eggs”. Such was one of the many times my Dad cracked me up. As rough as the trip was, we pretty much agreed that I would someday join him over the road, but of course at 16 years old, I’d have a number of years to wait.
The next year at the age of 17 I enlisted in the Army for 3 years. The plan was for me to get the Army enlistment behind me, and then afterward get the training to get my CDL. As it turned out, I got married in 1970 and he died of a heart attack in 1971. I ended up making the Army a full career; 29 years on active duty plus 11 years as a civilian. Even though the career path chosen in the Army was not as a truck driver, I never stopped thinking about it. I used to tell my soldiers that when I retired I was going to go truck driving.
In 2005, my youngest son became a driver for Schneider. After his training and during his first time at home, I was able to climb up into the cab of his truck. After admiring everything, I found that my wife was standing on the ground looking up at me. As soon as she saw my face she said “OK”. “What OK?” I asked. “OK, you can go out truck driving”. Within 1 month I had resigned and was sitting in class at the Schneider Academy in Dallas. So my Son and I teamed together and we still did a Father and Son thing. Only lasted a few months, but that is another story. I finished the last 9 months driving solo.
After a year, I returned to my Army career as a Department of Defense Contract corporate executive. The move was purely financial. I preferred the trucking lifestyle, but needed to climb out of a personal bankruptcy. We managed that 2 years early and after 4 years I grew tired of the fast paced, high stress corporate jungle and resigned. That was two years ago. My Army retirement along with my wife’s disability is more than adequate to live on and we have done well for ourselves. Now at the age of 60, I have gotten that driving bug once again.
So in a few days, I will again hit the road. My very supportive wife seems to be as excited as me. We have been married now over 42 years and she has been the perfect supporter in my Army career and after; all while she raised our two sons and held down her own career for 30 years. I don’t know, maybe after two years of our being together all day, every day, she is ready for me to get out of the house. I am prepared. I have the 2013 Motor Carriers Atlas and everything else required. I have the same copy of my Dad’s CDL that I displayed in my truck in 2006 and I will display it again in my next truck. Once again I will be traveling down that memory lane with my Dad.